On road trips, magnificent vastness, and incipient serendipity

Welcome to Twitsville!Unless we’ve walked the trail together or sipped a glass or two and had a chance to let our hair down, you’ve been getting only bits and pieces of me. It’s true: I have devolved into an unabashed microblogger. Like many around us, I’ve adopted a 140-character mentality, having steadily assumed the social attention span of a mosquito, copping the latest buzz. Couple that with the regular rigors of following my hiking muse, keeping my garden green and wearing 3 hats at work, and there’s simply been little left of me for developing creative, long-tail journalism.

Certainly my responsibilities have grown these past few seasons, ever since I closed up shop at California Wine Hikes and returned to my old job. Programs I had steered a half decade earlier had degraded in that time; I’d inherited a dismally broken website and a documentation program that had fallen into disarray. Having spent these past four years treading the grindstone to nearly single-handedly resurrect both, I felt I was overdue for an extended road trip. It had been 10 years since the last one. Ten years!

All work and no road trip makes Russ an indolent grouch.Skyping across the globe in January with my friend Niki had had us both dreaming of her flying from Zurich to California toward a summer road tour of Portland, Calgary, Kalispell and Estes Park; we were going to make one big circuit of things and take 4 weeks to do it. By April, however, commitments to the road had grown less solid; a potential new hire in my department had fallen through and things had changed with Niki’s employment scenario; I was faced with the prospect of picking her up at the airport in Missoula if she could swing it. But if I could manage to escape the office at all, it was beginning to look like a solo road trip.

When May rolled around, I hadn’t yet thought too hard about my road itinerary – I was cranking out the work while attempting to prospect another round of candidates. But when Adam Nutting reached out to me about joining him and 12 other outdoor social media enthusiasts for a sponsored backpacking and rafting expedition in Idaho’s Hells Canyon, I could barely prevent myself from jumping up and down at my desk like a hyperactive schoolboy on a sugar high. I instinctively responded “Yes!”idaho

I was going to Idaho!

Despite my travels thus far, I’ve not yet set foot in The Gem State. Though my company has always had a presence in the Boise area, my particular job role had never dictated that I be sent there on business. My infatuations with the southwest had confined the range of my more recent road junkets to such exotic locales as Ouray, Kanab, Springdale, Shiprock. But truth be told, I am smitten by the entire enormity of the Great American West, and the prospect of exploring northern Idaho excites me. It doesn’t hurt to know that I’ll be exploring it with folks with whom I’ve enjoyed inspiring and provocative dialog these past 3 or so years on social media.

Learn more about the #HellHikeAndRaft adventure!

Not so strange, perhaps, is that it is my social media backtrail that has established why I’ve been selected to participate on the Hell Hike and Raft Expedition. It’s an exquisite honor to be recognized for the efforts I’ve made at sharing my story and engaging in dialogs with you, and I find myself both humbled and grateful for the new level of experience that it brings.

And as to that experience, all of us participating in this expedition – we who call ourselves the #HellHikeAndRaft crew – have Parker and Becky of America’s Rafting Company to thank for their willingness to outfit us as we backpack northern Idaho’s Seven Devils Range and brave the rapids of the Snake River through the Hells Canyon gorge. A number of outstanding sponsors have stepped up to amply facilitate our effort, and we’re excited to test and evaluate their products on the trail, in camp, and on the water.

The #HellHikeAndRaft crew is proud to be sponsored by these fine establishments.

So buckle up, ladies and gents: over the next days and weeks, as the Internets allow, I plan to take you along on this serendipitous journey. After I clear my desk this week, we’ll embark on a 3-week road trip that’ll take us not only to the rugged beauty of northern Idaho, but to the magnificent soul-cleansing American vastness that is northern Nevada, southern Idaho and eastern Washington and Oregon. It’s a pretty safe bet that plenty of hiking and wine will be involved.

~winehiker

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Setting group expectations when you haven’t yet hiked the trail

Sunday morning I read a post on WildernessDave’s blog that delved into how diffident you can feel when you’ve decided to host a group hike but haven’t yet explored the trail you’re going to be hiking.

As Dave recounts:

We got an early start on a cold morning just as the sun was coming up.  I may not have made it entirely clear from the beginning, but I had never hiked this trail before.  I was going off of a pretty decent map and a trail description found online.  I didn’t know if there would be trail markers or not, or how easy the trail would be to follow once we got out of Spur Cross Recreation Area.  There is an expectation, when hiking with the person who has suggested the trail, that they are leading the hike.  This dawned on me shortly after we got started and I felt the pressure of needing to know where we were, where we were going and how far we still needed to go.  Every time someone asked, “is this the trail?” or “do we cross the creek here?” I felt like I should not only know the answer but be confident about it.

I appreciate Dave’s frankness in spite of what we may suppose are his ideal notions of himself; he encapsulates his experience well. I’ve certainly experienced the emotional struggle he was feeling; after all, every new trail is one you haven’t walked before. But when you’ve got other people joining you who may be new to hiking or haven’t yet hiked with you, or even seasoned hikers who may respect your abilities by reputation or proxy but don’t know the trail either, delivering on expectations can be of prime importance well before everybody arrives at the trailhead.

So how do you deliver?

Advance research is crucial for ensuring a fun, worry-free group hiking experience.

Advance research is crucial for ensuring a fun, worry-free group hiking experience.

Certainly a responsible hike organizer doesn’t show up at a trailhead as host of a group hike without doing as much advance research and planning as possible, as I figure Dave tried his best to do. Trail research can mean a good scouring of the available guidebooks, online trail descriptions, route-finding apps, weather predictions, seasonal trail conditions and hardcopy maps that you can lay your hands on – even enlisting the help of one or more of your fellow hikers – then taking the next step by setting proper expectations for the group. By all accounts, Dave is an experienced outdoorsman and, as he and I have learned from honest experience, one must also have confidence in one’s abilities as a seasoned hike leader, as well as confidence in the tools one uses to navigate the trail safely and as planned.

Which, for me, naturally begs two questions: what tools do you trust while researching a new trail and, aside from much of the typical gear you might pack with you, what tools do you trust once your group convenes at the trailhead?

I alluded to these questions in my comment on Wilderness Dave‘s post:

Once, in Paria Canyon, having seen 3 different GPS waypoints for the same trail destination prior to a hike into the Coyote Buttes, I’ll be danged if I’ll ever solely trust a GPS. Thank goodness I had my wits, a friend, trail descriptions and a map – and we reached our gruesomely twisted sandstone destination, The Wave (where we took another GPS reading that yielded yet a 4th coordinate).

While it’s preferable to have scouted a trail prior to leading a group hike over it, one doesn’t always get the opportunity, especially when the trailhead is a little further afield. But whether you know the trail or whether the hike will be a new experience, it always pays to set the group’s expectations early – once in the event write-up, then again at the trailhead before embarking down the trail. It’s at the trailhead that I tend to use words such as “discovery” and “adventure”, which I find resonate with folks. I also ask my fellow hikers to confirm my map readings so that there’s more of a consensus than an undue trust in my map-reading abilities. And that means more than any GPS interpretation can provide.

Entering The Wave, September 2003.

Entering The Wave, September 2003

It’s best to know what you’re getting everybody into…

Experience aside, you don’t want to lead other trusting souls on a group hike if you don’t know what to expect once you’re committed to leading it. But if you first take pains to characterize your hike so that you are reasonably satisfied with your expectations of what lies ahead, then when you publicly convey it as a bonafide hiking event, you’ll likely also attract the right people to your hike, simply because they will have reasonable expectations about the outing too.

Setting these kinds of advance expectations in your event write-up also raises the probability that you’ll keep out the riff-raff, which is to say, you’ll discourage those would-be attendees who, by seeing how you’ve characterized the hike, will likely realize they are not adequately conditioned or prepared; most will simply not show up for it. (Seasoned hike leaders will tell you: that’s a good thing.) Over time, you’ll become aware, and even thankful, that setting adequate expectations for your group will mean that your experience will be the fun outing that you planned rather than, as Dave may have experienced (and as I have too), an endurance exercise in people management.

So what kinds of expectations should you take pains to convey to your would-be group? The following list is a reasonably comprehensive one, and I consider its elements to be tantamount to crucial. So should you:

  • Always list the total distance. If there’s no adequate trail description handy, grab a good map and tally up the mileage between trail junctions/waypoints. Then, double-check your math – even triple-check it.
  • Always characterize the outing as a function of terrain and distance, and include seasonal factors such as weather, potential thunderstorms/flooding, and boil it down to a basic difficulty level, i.e.:
    • Easy
    • Moderate
    • Strenuous
    • Very strenuous

    As an example of this, a 10-mile hiking route in late Winter can be a very different experience than hiking the same route in the heat of Summer. What may seem like a moderate hike early on can seem brutal, unforgiving, and therefore very strenuous later in the year.

  • Always offer as much detail as necessary to get your hikers to the trailhead. This consideration is likely the most important one once people have committed to a hike’s distance and characterization, therefore requiring due diligence on your part so that all attendees arrive where you want them to – even when you want them to; i.e., how long they can expect to drive getting there.
  • Always state when you will meet and when you will hike. Because some people will have a tendency to show up at the last minute, I usually set a 15-minute window to allow for traffic conditions and to give early arrivers adequate time to get parked and perform their pre-hike ablutions.
  • If at all possible, always list an office phone number for the jurisdiction that manages the land you’ll be hiking in.
  • Always provide your own phone number or some other means of quickly contacting you during the hours and minutes preceding your hiking event. It’s reasonable to share this information privately with confirmed attendees rather than post it publicly in your event.
  • Optional, yet can make the difference in attendance numbers for many group hikes: a description of the expected experience, e.g., bird life, forests, grasslands, scenic views, tug-at-the-heartstrings chamber-of-commerce stuff if you prefer, plans for after the hike.

Do all of these things, and they will be the things that set a great hike leader apart from an armchair hike leader.

…so don’t be solely reliant on technology.

I’m sure it’s readily obvious from my comment to WildernessDave that I don’t place much faith in GPS technology; I surely don’t abide using a GPS system as the sole mechanism for safe and sane trail passage. I don’t believe other folks should do so, either; GPS technology is not nearly as reliable as some people tend to believe it is.

But whichever technojimcrackery you may hold in your hand, just because it’s got a microchip and software to control it doesn’t mean that it’s flawless! Don’t let technology (and its flaws) control you – or, by extension, your hiking buddies.

That’s not to say that GPS tools don’t serve a useful purpose. After all, they’re used to support land, sea, and airborne navigation, geophysical exploration, mapping and geodetic land surveys, vehicle location systems, and a wide variety of additional applications. The key take-away here is: a mobile GPS system is designed to be a support tool, not the only tool you should rely on.

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There are other life- and safety-critical reasons for not placing too much trust in your GPS system, as determined by researchers at Carnegie-Mellon University. To learn more, read an article titled Researchers Detect Big Flaws in GPS on the Tom’s Hardware website (a self-billed Authority on Tech).

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Researching my brain for a few final thoughts about…you guessed it: research.

If I may make one additional observation about setting expectations for your group hike, it is this: do your homework. And also know that placing undue faith solely in technology in lieu of adequate research one too many times will likely result in your being shunned as any kind of responsible leader by your local hiking community.

It’s a hard truth to saddle your horse with, but I’ve seen my share of this kind of bravado, and I cannot condone it. Indeed I’ve at times felt it necessary as a hike participant on another host’s event to step up and, using not much more than my wits and experience at reading unknown trail, help lead others back to where we started when confidence in the hike leader has been lost. Deciding to override the presumed authority of the hike organizer does not come easy, but when it’s a necessary decision, it’s always been the right decision in retrospect. Nevertheless, the profound outcome is that the experiences of all concerned could have been much more satisfying if the group host had been responsible in the first place. Fortunately this type of episode was not nearly the case with WildernessDave at Spur Cross; after all, his confidence in his abilities is hard-won from years of experience and experiment, virtue and volition, the tried and the true.

And: pre-hike research.

For the greater good, then, it’s better to deliver on your group’s expectations by always conducting thorough research – which, for the sagacity (and therefore, confidence) of the budding hike leader, should always mean advance trail reconnaissance – prior to even thinking about posting your group hike at that new trailhead.

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Have you ever organized a group hike but hadn’t first walked the trail?
Have you ever participated in a hike in which trust in the hike leader was compromised?
Please feel free to embellish upon my thoughts by adding yours.

But please, don’t judge. No group hike leader is ever a good group hike leader
until he or she makes the commitment to being one – a commitment that must renew
with each group outing.

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~winehiker

Trip report: Spring serenity at Briones Regional Park

From Briones Peak, a view to the north of cattle ponds and Carquinez Straits.

From Briones Peak, a view to the north
of cattle ponds and Carquinez Straits.

The day after a snowstorm, folks who ski tend to reference sunny, clear-blue skies as evidence of a bluebird day. If I can extend that term to include my hiking adventures, then I’ve recently enjoyed two bluebird days – one at Big Basin Redwoods back on February 24th, and the other this past Sunday at Briones Regional Park.

Quite fortuitously, each of these hikes had occasion to occur two days after moderate seasonal rainfall late in the week, each rain quickly giving way to clear weather and allowing adequate drainage and drying of the trail surface. By the time I’d arrived at their trailheads, the soils at each park had yielded a near-perfect tack, comfortable underfoot and presenting only minor incidence of loose footing in the shadowed low spots.

Red Maids (Calandrinia ciliata) were a common sight on the sunny saddle between Briones and Mott peaks.

Red Maids, Calandrinia ciliata, were a common sight on the sunny saddle between Briones and Mott peaks.

It had been another in a series of long weeks at work, and I first had to get past the frustrations of deciphering dense Engineerese and an all-too-tall pile of workload. A good night’s sleep and a few miles of road between my Sunnyvale home and the hills of Orinda seemed to carve away the vestiges of these vexations, but once I stepped out of my truck at Briones Park’s Bear Creek Trailhead, breathed the cool green hills, laced my boots and embraced a friend, all care quickly melted into a serene pace and welcome chatter.

Within a few steps, my week had suddenly and gratefully distilled into a decoction of carpe the damn bluebird diem.

We strode out on a counterclockwise loop, Angela and I, first walking a trail east along Bear Creek before angling right along Homestead Valley Trail. We encountered the softest earth along these lower flats which, though pocked with cow sign, were easily navigable, yet too laden with moisture to support wildflower displays. After perhaps a mile, our route took us left onto Briones Crest Trail and into hills rampant with coast live oak, yet studded here and there with madrone, bay laurel and, as we climbed higher to a junction with Table Top Trail, a scattering of surprisingly tall, quickly-growing buttercups.

Mt. Diablo glows in the morning haze.

Mt. Diablo glows in the morning haze.

Eventually we emerged from the trees onto an open ridge below Briones Peak and enjoyed our first glimpse of the surrounding countryside. Mt. Diablo shimmered beyond us to the east above the town of Walnut Creek, its twin peaks prominent on the morning skyline; to the west, we could easily recognize the unmistakable contours of Mt. Tamalpais.

We sauntered on, gaining Briones Peak, then continued northwest, following the crest of the ridge toward Mott Peak. The land undulated away to the north below us, offering a dazzling view of the Carquinez Straits, the Mayacamas Ridge in Sonoma County beyond and, just below us, the twin Sindicich lagoons.

Up until now we had generally followed the main trails, which had in large part been wide ranch road. But having seen that the trail we were on skirted the high point of the park, Mott Peak, I eschewed pretense and instead decided to follow a fenceline cow trail directly upslope to its summit. Mild protestations from Angela elicited a brief discussion of rhythmic breathing technique and, before we were scarcely aware of it, we were communing with the meadowlarks and ravens atop the peak, and hungrily unwrapping our sandwiches.

The Herrick Red from Conn Creek Winery: well-structured, fruit-forward, and absolutely delicious.

The Herrick Red from Conn Creek Winery: well-structured, fruit-forward, and absolutely delicious.

At 1,424 feet, the view from Mott Peak is nothing if not commanding, and so we sat and gazed awhile at the splendor surrounding us, gratefully chowing down and occasionally commanding sips from a bottle of Herrick Red from Conn Creek Winery, a classic yet affordable Bordeaux-style wine sourced and blended from Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah grapes grown in Napa Valley’s Rutherford district.

On such a comfortable, sun-warm day, it was easy to accept the notion that we should simply linger in the grass among the Red Maids, allow the gentle Bay breeze to caress us, and let our thoughts wander in unbroken reverie, but our feet eventually ruled the moment, given to notions of wandering themselves. And so we ambled downhill, back along Mott Peak Trail to Black Oak Trail which, though it descends sharply enough to wisely warrant a counterclockwise circumnavigation of the Briones Crest, quickly returned us to Old Briones Road and our cars.

If you’re going to Briones Regional Park

The wildflowers are just beginning to bloom, so now through mid-May is a great time to explore the magic of Briones Regional Park. The majority of the park’s over 6,000 acres of open space is unshaded and open to the elements, so be sure to wear sunscreen, even a wide-brimmed hat. The Briones Regional Park website a includes a downloadable trail map; parking at the Briones Park office and the Alhambra, Bear Creek, Lafayette Ridge and Reliez Valley staging areas is $3 and is open from 8 a.m. to sunset.

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Have you hiked Briones Regional Park?
If so, did you see any wildflowers or enjoy the view from Mott Peak?

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~winehiker

Phoenix rising: The New Winehiker Witiculture Blog.

No doubt many of you recall the frustrations of the 2008-2010 economic downturn. Housing bubble, financial crises, stock market woes, massive unemployment hitting home for so many of us. The course of my life and career were certainly on a parallel: I found myself scrambling for a paycheck – almost any paycheck that I could earn with a keyboard. Furthermore, I had developed problems with my left hip that precluded any hikes longer than 4 or 5 miles.

And I crashed head-on with the realization that I could no longer operate my tour business, California Wine Hikes.

It was a grim time, and I felt its deep, bitter bite for weeks, even months. Feeling the heavy weight of failure, dwelling more than I should on how I’d wasted five good years, and desperately searching my soul for any kind of meaning as to where my life had gone and why, I realized I needed to close operations on my business, shut down my website, and springboard full tilt boogie for Jesus into the job search.

Those were dark, dreadful days. It was not easy to appear enthusiastic during job interviews, but somehow I managed to dig deep and shine. It took a long while, and it was damned hard to stay focused and positive. Thankfully, after many months, the phone finally rang and I came away with a technical writing job that pays the bills – a job that I still hold today, nearly 2½ years later.

I quickly discovered that landing that job was not the only silver lining to my recent dark storm cloud. While I had already possessed the chops to fulfill the role of technical writer, it had become very apparent to me that my company’s website needed work. A massive lot of work! It helped immensely that I had spent the better part of the previous 5 years managing a business and website, honing my HTML, SEO and content-creation skills, building an understanding of social networking, and even building the vocabulary, the jargon, of the web developer. Right then and there, two weeks into the job, I volunteered to own the company website.

Those 5 years of skill-building hadn’t been wasted after all.

I threw myself lock, stock and barrel into the job. I worked hard to heal my hip. For two years, I rarely came up for air. Though on salary, I worked nights. I worked weekends. Twitter, Facebook, and blogging, to me, were abstractions I could not afford. And, though I felt all the while a strong compulsion to drastically improve my company’s website and technical documentation, I felt equally strongly about resurrecting my own sense of self-worth, of contribution, of accomplishment. As I ticked off each painstaking milestone, both job-wise and hiking-wise, it began to occur to me that light was actually beginning to appear at the end of my own personal tunnel.

And I began to reach out again.

Many of you who are reading this post have certainly noticed an upturn in my social media activity, which I returned to in the Spring of last year. Some of you are even reading my online paper, Winehikers’ Daily, which I felt was a way to not only inform and perhaps enlighten my audience about the topics they find interest in, but also a way for me to keep my finger on the pulse of current topics – and reconnect with my social network. Though I had been away from social media for what seems an extended hibernation, this journey back has, in retrospect, been very much a sound mental health decision.

Let's hit the trail.

Let’s hit the trail.

I don’t regret that journey.

Today, despite the ritual and the process of these past few years, I realize that this journey has turned out to be a very redeeming one. I have emerged from the other end of my long, dark tunnel. I’m largely satisfied with my job accomplishments. And I am hiking again!

And, if you’ll permit me to be so bold: I have returned to blogging.

Behold the new winehiker witiculture!

I am deeply grateful to you, my readers, for your abiding warmth, understanding, and patience. I hope you’ll join me on the next leg of this journey.

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Folks, what do you think? Was my return to blogging a good idea? Or, is blogging dead?
Did I wait too gol-darn long to resurrect my blog?
Are these all just silly questions?

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Love,
winehiker

Flickr Photo: Romp thru the Redwoods

A footbridge across one of the many small creeks at Henry Cowell Redwoods.

Happy winehikers, cavorting along a woodsy path on a late-September morning. These folks joined me last year; would you like to join me this year? If so, you’ll find all the details on my Romp through the Redwoods page.

~winehiker

A Thanksgiving Day assault

A handful of the South Bay Hiking Elite, as Tom Mangan dubs them, met before dawn this morning to climb the steep and windswept slopes of Mission Peak, which crowns the hills east of Fremont, California. I would have been there with that crew, laboring up that @#$&! hill, if I hadn’t woken up coughing, assaulted by some sort of scurrilous *$&%#!! bug.

Ah, ’tis the season for health-zapping peskies, and I s’pose I’m duly taking my turn.

Some kind of hiking blogger I am. I guess I’m not nearly so elite as I want to be. But I didn’t feel like sharing my malady with the hardy hillclimbing lot (nor with my mother at Thanksgiving dinner this evening), so I stayed snug and cozy under a wad of blankets while the Intrepid Elite walked tall in the morning twilight.

Sunrise atop Mission Peak, Thanksgiving Day 2006

Dawn atop Mission Peak, Thanksgiving Day 2006. Photo courtesy of Two Heel Drive.

Maybe “walked” isn’t the right word. Nobody just “walks” up Mission Peak. Well, except perhaps for that young feller John Fedak. But I’ll let Tom tell the story in yet another of his trademark photoessays.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

~winehiker

Why I love redwood trees

Sequoia sempervirens. May it embrace many skies.

Sequoia sempervirens. May it embrace many skies.

Whether cool and breezy in mid-Autumn or hot and sticky in late Spring to mid-Summer, the heavy shade of The Forest of Nisene Marks State Park is often welcome to hiker and mountain biker alike. That shade is largely due to the untold populations of redwood trees that dominate the area, though Bigleaf Maples also do their share to offer mercy from the sun.

While beautiful and stately, the redwoods in this forest are often no more than 100 years old. As one walks steadily up the former railroad grade that is Aptos Creek Trail, one can only imagine what this forest may have looked like in the mid-19th century. That was before these trees’ massive forebears were harvested for the burgeoning lumber needs of San Francisco, Santa Clara Valley, and other local coastal hamlets.

Fortunately there are still first-growth redwoods nearby at Henry Cowell and Big Basin Redwoods state parks. These are Nature’s living cathedrals, and they are destinations in which I lead hikes a few times every year.

Why?

Because those old matriarchs are worth seeing. Because everyone owes themselves a moment of Nature’s living grandeur. Because they’re there.

Because I love knowing that they’re there.

Though I might have the disposition for it, I don’t, however, hug redwood trees. That is, not unless I’ve got a set of fine tweezers and a lot of time to kill.

See related trip report: Nisene Marks State Park & Burrell School Vineyards.

~winehiker

Trip report: Nisene Marks State Park & Burrell School Vineyards

It just wasn’t our Fault today.
‘Twas a bit early and a bit chilly Sunday morning when I related my intentions to y’all about the day’s planned excursion through the Forest of Nisene Marks State Park. It was 45 degrees at 9:30 a.m.; not typical for early November in the San Francisco Bay Area. But even so I thought an uphill walk would warm me sufficiently. Golly, I might have been wrong about that. Already, it was going to be my fault not to don the silk longies.

Brrrr!

It was good to see the park again; I hadn’t spent much time at Nisene Marks since my mountain biking days. I’ve always enjoyed the heavy canopy of the park’s redwoods, regardless of the weather. Combined with the low sun of the Fall season, the forest shade was to keep our group cool for a large part of the day. Though ours was a friendly group, ready to brave the forest chill for a long romp through glorious redwood enchantment, we were a shivering group. But we planned to soon be warm: we faced 10 miles of steady hills.

A good day to be in the woods.

A good day to be in the woods.

We started out at the Porter parking area and walked steadily up the former railroad grade that is Aptos Creek Trail, covering nearly six miles before turning off on Big Slide Trail. That’s when the fun began: the trail wound down along a narrow redwood- and fern-lined canyon, alternating between moments of deep, mossy, forested darkness and fleeting glimpses of sunlight. Curving, twisting, and rolling downstream, the trail showed hardly a sign of human passage. The challenge of keeping to the dim path while reveling in the glow of this elfin paradise bore the seven of us, seemingly, to a sidereal separation from earthbound worry.

The group always wins
Alas, the reverie broke too abruptly. Another hiker, one who’d passed ahead earlier, was now returning, informing us that the trail ahead was signed as being impassable. Darn.

Double darn!

I can be ambivalent about such matters. Because if I’d been alone, I would have attempted to pass through the impassable, defying the faceless functionary who placed the sign, to determine the trail’s supposed impassability for myself. A guy’s gotta try, right? You’ve heard the standard phrase: Always Question Authority, Absolutely.

But the group always wins, of course, and for an obvious good reason: doing the right thing usually means nobody gets hurt.

So, after a moment of wistful wishes to continue mixed with negotiations for good citizenship, safety, and compliance, we turned back uphill instead of continuing into areas grey with unforeseen shadows.

Because we were good citizens, however, we never got to see our intended target for the day: the epicenter of the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake. We did, however, get to hike about 4 more miles. But that was probably a good thing, since it kept us a little warmer a little longer.

We didn’t make it, but anyone else can
I figure we hiked about 14 miles Sunday. But the good news is: anyone who wants to can get themselves easily to the epicenter without hiking even one-fourth that long. That’s because there’s a much shorter trail that leads to it from a trail junction we had passed early on. But if you should take the long way and try to find the epicenter from the uphill side like we did, and if you find the trail impassable, not getting there won’t be your Fault, either. Unless you read this first and go anyway.

State park budgets being what they are these days, I don’t expect this trail to be repaired very soon. Like “in the next five years” soon.

The group always wines, too
Nevertheless, undaunted and not to be outdone, the seven of us actually did arrive at Burrell School Vineyards about 4:00 in the afternoon for a well-deserved wine tasting in their enchanting little ridgetop schoolhouse. And while only two of us, my buddy Vindu and myself, were keen to tongue-wag about the wines’ characteristics, all of us were keen to their beneficial effects.

Ah, liquid anesthesia!

Vindu and I even found three out of the five bottles poured to be quite worth taking home. I sprung for a 2002 Zinfandel from Ryan Oaks Vineyard, Amador County ($30), which I found quite jammy and well-finished. Vindu, flush with endorphins and polyphenols, let his MasterCard speak for Burrell’s 2002 Estate Chardonnay from their schoolhouse estate in the Santa Cruz Mountains, a fine combination of butter and spice, on sale for $16. Plus, though they weren’t pouring it,* Vindu also picked up 3 bottles of 2003 Cabernet Franc from the Santa Cruz Mountains, a young (but highly drinkable now) estate-grown pure varietal that is very much worth cellaring; it’s priced at $40 a bottle.

Wait! There’s more.
I’d mentioned in my last post that fellow outdoor blogger Tom Mangan would be along for this hike. You might enjoy Tom’s account of this day, a darn-fine photoessay.

*A side note on the Cab Franc: we had thought we would taste this wine at the winery. However, Burrell School is currently down to less than 20 cases and is therefore no longer pouring it at their tasting bar. You can still buy it, though, if you hurry. Vindu and I enjoyed one of these solid Cab Francs for dinner that evening, the upshot being that we both purred like satisfied cats and finished the bottle. And that was nobody’s fault.

See a related story, Why I love redwood trees.

~winehiker

Will winehikers walk in well-nigh wintry weather? Yup.

The Fall weather here in Northern California is beginning to get cool, almost wintry. I know that’s a mild statement when compared to the weather in much of the rest of the country. And yes, I’ve heard all the usual stories about how we here in California don’t know real weather. But here in my vegetable garden, I’m still harvesting basil, tomatoes, and chili peppers.

It’s still good hiking weather, too. I’ll be rendezvousing with friends this morning for about 9+ miles of hilly trail at Nisene Marks State Park above the seaside town of Aptos. We’re managing, somehow, to sandwich a sunny clear day in between two rainy ones. That’ll make the ocean air pretty fresh for our walk in the redwoods – great for filling our lungs as we gasp uphill.

We’ll follow our traipse with a stop at Burrell School Vineyards, where we “promise to sip” some good Syrahs and at least one good Cab Franc. Fellow hiker/blogger Tom Mangan will be along for this one, ostensibly to further his winehikerness. I think he’s got what it takes.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

******* UPDATE: I’ve now posted my Nisene Marks State Park trip report.

~winehiker

To Fall, With Grace

The weather here in the San Francisco Bay Area has been uncharacteristically warm and dry lately, making for an Autumn season that has been incredibly enticing to an outdoors junkie like myself.

The other day at Russian Ridge Open Space Preserve, I captured a California buckeye against a backdrop of azure sky and cloud wisps.

A California Buckeye proudly displays its ornaments.

A California Buckeye proudly displays its ornaments.

Saturday, while at Fort Mason in San Francisco, I took a moment to record the following scene of the San Francisco Marina Yacht Harbor. Note the Golden Gate Bridge and Marin County’s Mt. Tamalpais in the background.

A late Fall afternoon at San Francisco's Marina Yacht Harbor near Fort Mason. Note the Golden Gate Bridge and Marin County's Mt. Tamalpais in the background.

A late Fall afternoon at San Francisco’s Marina Yacht Harbor near Fort Mason. Note the Golden Gate Bridge and Marin County’s Mt. Tamalpais in the background.

The beauty that is Fall 2006 is not lost on other outdoor bloggers, either. I must admit, though, that I’m not nearly the shutterbugger that other hikers are, so I’ll dutifully share their perspectives with you as well.

Tom Chandler of the Trout Underground Fly Fish Blog suggests:

With the days sunny and warm and the nights right around freezing, the fall colors just keep hanging in there. Soon we’ll get a cold snap and the hard frosts that follow, dropping the leaves and killing off the October Caddis in droves.

Fall on the Upper Sacramento River.

Fall on the Upper Sacramento River.
Photo courtesy of Trout Underground

Heather over at Backcountry Blog posts a trip report, Fall in the High Sierra, from her Autumn experience at Yosemite’s Saddlebags Lake, which is at 10,000 feet near Tioga Pass. Says Heather:

Fall colors – yellow and gold aspen trees, red tundra – are on full display in late September and October, and with colder temperatures and less predictable weather scaring off many would-be hikers, you can enjoy your favorite trails in relative solitude.

From the Cynical Traveler comes a nice photoessay about hiking in Japan in Autumn. It’s not clear why the Cynical Traveler is so cynical, since a cynic might believe people would greet his blog with consummate disinterest. You just might be interested, though, so here’s a tease:

Hiking Japan in Autumn, from a photoessay by the Cynical Traveler.

Hiking Japan in Autumn, from a photoessay by the Cynical Traveler.
Photo courtesy of the Cynical Traveler.

If you haven’t checked out Dan’s Outside, you should. South Bay resident and outdoor photographer Dan Mitchell has been logging a lot of miles wandering the high hills and snapping some breathtaking photos of California’s fall colors.

And, if you’ve been watching a lot of football this Fall season – especially if you’ve got kids – I recommend that you find a day soon to get your family together, grab your picnic basket and a camera, and get yourselves out of the house to enjoy this sensational Autumn weather in the parks before it gets wet out there.

~winehiker